Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Comfort, Discomfort, Discomfort with Comfort, Apathy, Empathy, and Seeming Randomness

Sometimes in my sermons, I feel the need to tell my congregations, “Bear with me, this is going somewhere…I promise.”  Sometimes to fully make a point, you have to offer seemingly disparate points, before pulling the string that suddenly and unexpectedly ties those disparate pieces together into something cohesive.  This, I think is going to prove to be one of those times.

“Bear with me, this is going somewhere…I promise.”

Comfort is a funny thing.  As a matter of fact, as I sit here this afternoon, I find that comfort is a well, uncomfortable thing and I’m thankful.  On the one hand, I’m sitting here in my office watching my fish (Tertullian and Athanasius), even as I write this, hoping that they’re comfortable.  I hope that the water condition suits them, that they enjoy the colder temperatures of my office (they’re Orandas, they ought to).  I hope they’re comfortable with their food because, well, Tertullian, in keeping with his namesake is a bit of grump and likes to spit his food out.  But all in all, I think that they’re comfortable.

As I think about it, I’ve taken many steps to insure my comfort as I sit here.  My legs are atop my desk as I sit here with the laptop in my lap.  I have my coffee within easy reach which makes me both happy and comfortable.  I have 80’s music playing in the background because I’m addicted to cheese and it’s comfortable.  I have a space heater running in my aforementioned chilly office, because while I enjoy cooler temps, my basement office if left as is, is too uncomfortable.  And then of course, there’s my greatest comfort of all, which I got to experience when I went upstairs a few minutes ago to refill my coffee, a nice, long hug from my beautiful wife.

All of those things are awesome and certainly not the uncomfortable kind of comfort I was referring to earlier, no, the discomfort I mentioned is pretty deep within.  As I had mentioned in my previous post, I have found myself growing increasingly empathetic with my fellow brethren in ministry, it’s funny how walking in their proverbial shoes can do that.  I continue to be amazed at what a learning experience the past two and a half years as a pastor has been.  The ease with which comfort can overcome is truly frightening to me.
I can remember pretty clearly the first day about seven and a half years ago when I first realized that I felt differently, perhaps miraculously so.  As a lot of you know, I struggled with a pretty horrific disease resulting from an injury that took a good decade from the prime of my life.  It’s a disease that has no cure and whose nature is to continually worsen, and I can remember so clearly the realization that something within my body might have changed.  I can also remember the flood of doubt, the rationalizations that were exploding in my head as to why it would be better, safer, and more comfortable to stay in bed, despite the desperate screams from someplace even deeper within, “Get up!”

I look at that time and perhaps I’m guilty of romanticizing it a bit too much, perhaps I’m guilty of putting meaning where there was/is none (in my most honest, most uncomfortable moments, I tend to believe I’m guilty of minimizing it), but looking back at that time, I find myself a little bit horrified that there was a significant part of me that felt it would be easier, safer, and more comfortable to stay flat on my back. 

 More comfortable living that pathetic existence, than to risk getting up.  Perhaps it was the fear of failure, of being made to look like a fool, a fear of shattered hope which has a tendency to cut much deeper than any physical pain, perhaps it was all that and much more.  Who knows at this point?  But back to the point of being fearful of “romanticizing” the moment all these years later, I feel certain looking back, I feel certain deep down, that the door that had cracked open that day was only going to be open for a short period.  Fail to walk through on that day, in that moment, and perhaps that door would have been slammed shut forever, forfeiting an opportunity to defeat an impossible, unbeatable captor.  The one moment in time when it forgot to lock my cell and turned its back.

“Get up!”  Two little words made the comfort of my prison so supremely uncomfortable, that despite my fears, my reasoning, and every piece of rationality that I possessed; I got up and the rest as they say is history.  Within two years of that day, I was symptom free, and here I am some seven years later on the verge of graduating seminary and doing flat out crazy stuff in the gym :)
On an interesting aside that might have some deeper meaning, I’ll leave it to you to decide, my mother recently asked me if there are any times when I still have issues; and there is.  If the arm that was originally affected (both eventually became consumed by this disease) gets really cold and I mean crazy, borderline dangerous cold (don’t ask how I figured this out lol), the hell that I lived in for a decade comes rushing back, full force.  The same pain, the same symptoms, almost everything except the mottling of my skin.  Thankfully, as my arm warms, the symptoms completely dissipate and I’m no worse for the wear.  However, it does prove a painful reminder of where/what I came from.  Perhaps more importantly, it provides a pretty powerful reminder that on that morning when “Get up!” rang out in the depths of my soul, I somehow found the idea of that hellish, crushing pain more comfortable than to risk defeating and rising above it.

So I know if you’ve made it this far, you are wondering what any of this has to do with anything, especially pastoring and empathy, and I will tell you as I did in the beginning…

“Bear with me, this is going somewhere…I promise.”

Until Next Time…

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Ramblings and Musings or more accurately, "I have no idea where this is going, but I'm trying to get back in the swing of things."

I really honestly have no idea where this is going or if there will even be "purpose" to this post, other than to attempt to get my "blogging" legs under me again lol 

I have found myself increasingly reflective since my time in seminary began, which I suppose is how it’s supposed to work at some level.  I’m hesitant to go much further in this particular stream of thought, before getting into the meat of what I’m after, but alas, I think it’s important.  I look back over the past three and a half years that have flown by at warp speed (loved every minute of it…well, aside from the eternity spent in Hebrew.  That did not warp by, nor did I love it.  No, not even a little bit on either account) and I marvel at how my attitude on a lot of things have changed.  I can’t say or see where passions have changed, if anything they have been emboldened and enflamed to a greater degree.  However, coming to a greater degree of understanding and perhaps Christian maturity has taught me in no uncertain terms that the things of this world are rarely as black and white as I had once held.

The things that I stood in opposition to, the things that I stood for have proven to be many layered and complicated things, with which my black and white color palette had no hope of fully capturing, or understanding.  I think of the things that used to fuel many of my passions theologically speaking; heresies, false teachings, bad writers, bad fiction, bad pastors, bad churches, apathy, apostasy…(do I really need to continue?)…and I think to myself, “Man, that’s a pretty negative list.”  Negative in the sense that what was fueling and propelling me was rooted in things that while good to stand against, were ultimately negative in nature.  Make no mistake, I still find such things worthy to stand against and there is no shortage of energy or desire within me to do so, but my approach to such things has changed.  I think there were two great epiphanies that served to be catalysts for seismic shifts in my worldview and my approach to those things that tend to draw my ire.  The first was the realization that no one sets out (I hope and pray anyhow) to be a “bad” Christian, teacher, preacher, pastor, writer, etc.  As a pastor of two churches for the past two and a half years, I’ve come to see up close and personal how easy and seemingly innocuous the detour to “the wide and easy path” is.  It is something that requires constant awareness and discernment that for me has been born of a whole lot of life experience and even more mistakes.  I cannot even begin to recount all of the conversations my wife and I have had as these truths have continued to be illuminated in my life, my faith, and my calling.  There have been so many forks in the road in this journey where it would have been so easy and yes, even tempting, to slide off of the narrow path with full conviction that what I was doing was good and right.   I have certainly gained an all new appreciation and empathy for those who pick up this mantle and god forbid, unknowingly get lost along the way.

The second epiphany came in just simply looking at the list of which seemed to motivate me.  Despite my love, passion, and talent for polemics and debate, I really had to do a lot of soul searching in regards to the question I found myself constantly asking, “Where’s the love, mercy, and grace?”  Is it good to stand in opposition to things which I find myself standing in opposition to?  I think so, but in that I also recognized that in some regards I recognized that I was inadvertently part of the problem. (See epiphany #1).  The Church is very good at pointing out problems and shortcomings, both within our walls and certainly outside, but where we tend to be pretty abysmal is in offering solutions or this “more excellent way” that we all seem to agree is central to our faith.  I was really good at pointing out problems and articulating them very well, but I’m not sure I was really offering solutions.

Take my pieces on “The Shack”.  I’m still not a fan and still stand by all of the things that I found to be wrong with it, and if I find you in a bookstore perusing it, I’m still pretty likely to strike up a conversation with you over it.  However, the tone and timbre of that conversation would probably be far different today than four years ago.  What good have I really accomplished in tearing down something like “The Shack” which has evidently had a pretty profound effect on many lives, if I am not willing to share that there is a more excellent, more profound way?  And then to be willing and able to model it?  To then walk alongside someone in their journey?

That’s just one example, but given that I received requests from all over the globe for the document I created on “The Shack” I figured it was a pretty good example. (At this point, I really am rather tired of discussing it)  With that said however, there are numerous examples and directions we could have gone, but it highlights the deeper and more profound truth that now enflames my heart.  The fact that people are finding meaning, comfort, and understanding outside of what we would consider orthodox faith and the Church, highlights not the failure of those folks looking for meaning, but rather our failure as the Church.  We have lost our identity as Christ’s body in the world and frankly I worry that we are just as guilty of having a skewed and faulty picture of Jesus as those things which we decry.

If we truly showed the world a Savior that is not only needed and vital, but transformational, powerful, and very much near, that is the epitome of those things that we like to proclaim (love, mercy, grace, hope, sacrifice, compassion) as is evidenced by the lives lived by His followers, I wonder how different both the Church and the world would be?  Seems so simple as to threaten embarrassment at having missed or dismissed it, and yet, a little embarrassment in the face of that proverbial light bulb finally and gloriously going off, well, seems a pretty small and insignificant price to pay.  Especially for someone who still for better or for worse detests being wrong :)